Breathing Well, Living Well The Secrets of Good Indoor Air Quality

Given the number of breaths we all take on any given day, it's surprising that more attention isn't given to air quality. The subject usually only comes up when there's a problem - after people start sneezing or feeling ill. As with any potential health issue, however, the best time to talk about air quality problems is before they start. Preventive measures and a few doses of common sense can go a long way in keeping residents - and buildings - healthy.

What Can Go Wrong

Just like people, buildings can get ill from time to time. Called "sick building syndrome," the phenomenon causes occupants to experience symptoms or health effects that may be linked to the time they spend in that building. These symptoms may include headaches, eye, nose or throat irritation, a dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea, even difficulty concentrating, says James Malek, president of Indoor Environmental Services in the Bronx. In most cases, these symptoms tend to dissipate or disappear when the sufferer is away from the building.

The root causes of sick building syndrome are many and varied - and often not entirely provable by scientific means. Usually, however, the suspected culprits fall into one of three categories: inadequate ventilation; chemical contaminants from indoor sources such as adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, cleaning agents - even manufactured wood products - or biological contaminants, such as bacteria, molds, pollen or viruses. "The cause can be any of a dozen different problems," Malek says.

According to Robert Madarasz of ENVIROspect, Inc. in Smithtown, "A building can become "˜sick' for many reasons. Even something like new interior building materials and furnishings can contribute to indoor air quality problems and a temporary sick building syndrome."

Finding the Root Cause

The only way to get at the root of sick building syndrome is to dig. Finding out as much information as possible about what's happening within a building's walls may be the only way to find a permanent solution to an air quality issue. If residents begin complaining of respiratory or other problems, it is imperative to turn to an expert.

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